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Helping Kids Cope


A 6-point economic action plan

Have you lost your job? Think you may lose your job? Watched your 401(k) go down the drain? Afraid to look at your investment statements? Burst into tears when you turn on CNBC?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, and you have kids, now is the time to take A-C-T-I-O-N with your children. If you don't relate, you are probably stuck on an ice floe in Antarctica. The point is that everyone is affected by this economic disaster.

Here's my 6-point survival guide for helping kids cope:

Acknowledge the crisis and listen to your children's concerns and fears.

What does that mean? Your kids may say, "It's not fair that I can't have the custom-made 105-inch high def. TV for the holidays." Or, "Where are we going to live if we have to sell this apartment?" "Where will I go to school?" They may initially be angry that their way of life may change. Some of it is "spoiled kid-complaining," some of it is very valid -- but to them it's all valid.

They may see you scared, and they are going to be scared, too. Don't whitewash or pooh-pooh their feelings. Their feelings are real, just like yours. Acknowledge those feelings. Say that you are scared, too. But it will be OK, we are going to be a family, no matter where we live. And it's OK to be disappointed that you won't get that gargantuan TV, but this is not a priority for the family, now.

Come clean with your kids.

Sit them down and really discuss what has happened in this market. You are not alone; they are not alone; over 1 miillion people have lost their jobs; everyone lost tons of money in the stock market; lots of people are losing their homes. That's the way it is now. It is not your fault, and there wasn't much you could have done about it. But, you and most people were blind-sided by this, and in a lot of cases, not told the truth… you are not going to do this with them.

Don't scare them to death, but be as honest as you can. Explain that you are trying to figure things out as fast as you can and that you will keep them posted. But there are things that you know will change or need to change. Maybe they will have to go to public school next semester, instead of private school, or maybe you will be selling the vacation home, or summer camp won't happen this summer. Maybe you are going to live in Michigan with Grandma (and not find work in the auto industry).

Be honest with the kids, and you may have to put up with some sobbing, screaming and tantrums. Frankly, at this point, you probably feel like having a tantrum of your own -- that is perfectly acceptable as well. Just try not to do this in public.

Next: Finding Solutions

Talk about important family values.

Explain that your family is not the "stuff" you own. That is just stuff… ok, maybe fun stuff … but only stuff. Your values are that you care about people, or the world -- or whatever your values are. Explain, perhaps, that education is one of your core values, but that there is only enough money for a State school, and that is fine. This is a perfect time to discuss the difference between "needs" and "wants." You "need" food, but you don't need designer coffee every day and you don't "need" to eat out.

Investigate ways to give to those less fortunate.

This is a perfect time to show your kids how lucky they have been. There are lots of kids out there that are less fortunate than your kids. Take them into a soup kitchen, or have them read to the blind, or play games with some kids in a cancer ward. This will raise their consciousness and be more meaningful then saying, "You don't realize how lucky you were…" We don't know how lucky we were.

Organize lists of what you own and owe and what you can sell.

Your kids can do the same with their stuff. They can figure out what they don't want. They are great at using eBay and can help the family to downsize, or they can organize a garage sale. Will the $100 or $1,000 make a difference to your life at this point? No. But it gets your children involved and empowered to be part of the solution. The healthiest kids during 9/11 were the ones who were helping to contribute, and not the ones who were disempowered and told that it didn't concern them.

Also let your kids come up with some other ways to save money: Maybe you can take homemade sandwiches to work (if you are lucky enough to be working), or cut out movies and restaurants and get videos and make pizza at home.

If your kids earn an allowance, don't cut it out, but rather let them contribute back to the family. Again, it makes them feel less helpless, less like a victim and more a part of the family team that is working together to find solutions.

Navigate the rough waters together as a family with honesty and clarity.

Let your kids go to speak to Grandma or Grandpa, or anyone who lived through the Depression. Let your kids hear stories of how the family lived together and shared food with the neighbors and shared laughs and all sat around the radio and listened as a family.

We are now caught up in our "bunker" mentality. We are connected to our Blackberries, alone, or our computers, alone, or our iPods, alone. We have forgotten what it is like to share a family meal, together… give it a try.

FAMILY seems to be the theme here. It is. It is now time to get back to basics -- with our money, with our children and with our lives.

Teach your children in grades 3-5 about earnng, spending, saving and giving in

More on Family & Finance

Meet Neale Godfrey

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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